Most of us have a place or two somewhere on the planet where we can either sit down and relax or bring ourselves to a state of quiescence rather easily. This is a place where the world slows down, our mind clears, and we can rediscover ourselves in the midst of our daily trials and tribulations. For most people like me with a rural upbringing, there is no place like our grandmother’s back porch or our backyard at home.
While both of those places provide so much respite and relaxation for me, there is one place in the world where everything truly comes to a stop and where clarity returns: Tokyo.
This might sound far fetched tom some, especially as I would be a foreigner in the world’s largest and most bustling city, but for some reason I feel as at home in Tokyo as I do amidst the rolling hills, corn fields, and quaint small town streets of my hometown. Tokyo provides me a sense of anonymity and clarity amongst the tens of millions of Japanese bustling through their daily lives on the JR trains and busses that traverse every corner of the 23 wards.
This weekend provided me a rare sense of clarity and quiescence in no other place but Tokyo. I would like to share my story.
As readers of this blog know, this is my second time living in Japan, both times separated by about two and a half years and the Great Tohoku Earthquake. Life in Kansai (western Japan) is good, but I have recently been troubled by some personal problems along with a sense of complacency with my living situation. That is never a good thing.
My friend from language school informed me that he was moving to Yokohama, a city south of Tokyo, for another immersion language program and invited me to spend the weekend with him to rekindle old memories and meet some of my friends in Tokyo. I could not turn down such an invitation and quickly hopped aboard the Shinkansen on Friday night after work to head to the big city. As expected, Shinagawa Station in Tokyo was packed, but this time I was not annoyed in the slightest. I looked forward to brushing shoulders with the salarymen on their way home and the other young people on their way out for the night.
After meeting up at our hotel in Shinjuku, I became a tour guide of sorts, taking him to and fro throughout Shinjuku’s back alleys and less-traveled streets. First up on the list was a place called 思いで横丁 (omoideyokocho) , which translates walking down memory road. This is one of my favorite spots in Tokyo, where each and every vendor sells yakitori and you go from store to store, getting your favorite skewers and noodle dishes as the night goes on.
As we walked from our hotel room to the yakitori streets, light rain started to fall and changed the entire atmosphere of an unbearable and hot Tokyo afternoon to a more comfortable, bustling Tokyo evening. Quickly the umbrellas came out and all the lights and signs from the storefronts quickly glistened off the streets and from the puddles. It was a great evening. My friend and I went from store to store, sampling our favorite yakitori while also making new friends along the way. We even helped someone set an alarm on their phone in English! It seemed on these streets that the enoki bacon and Sapporo tasted better than anywhere else in all of Japan.
From there, we went on to another area of Shinjuku, called Golden Gai. This area is famous for the amount of small bars packed onto the small city alleys. The bars often only seat between four and ten people, so the seating is premium, as is the experience. We had a few drinks at some of the establishments and enjoyed chats about everything from Japanese baseball players in America to forcing people to give their self-introductions in English. These kinds of evenings are my favorite, as my friend and I became a little less foreign for one night as we interacted with the Japanese, in Japanese.
We walked back to our hotel and settled down for what we thought would be a good night’s sleep to prepare for another day on our feet in Tokyo, but Mother Nature had an issue with that– an earthquake woke me up around 4:00am in true Tokyo fashion.
This was a perfect night in Tokyo for my friend and I. Little did I know, but tomorrow would have even more in store.